You know who Brian Blessed is. He's a living legend. One of our greatest shakespearean actors, master of the big beard and booming voice. A whirling tornado of over-the-top bravado and unstoppable energy. Captivating in 'I, Claudius', hysterical in 'Flash Gordon' and relatively restrained compared to the late Alan Rickman in 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves', he has an impressive filmography behind him, yet he is so much more. Still a theatrical tour-de-force at 79, he is also an adventurer, mountaineer, trained undertaker, diplomat and martial artist, as well as an acclaimed bullshitter. In a recent radio interview he told how he once delivered a baby while jogging through the park, biting through the umbilical cord and licking its face clean... and everyone believed him! Because he's BRIAN BLESSED!
Yet despite all this, for the last two decades (save for the occasional voice-part), Brian Blessed has been largely absent from cinema screens. This seems an egregious crime to me, considering how many parts have been perfect for him. It almost makes you wonder if there's a conspiracy at work. How else to explain that the five following roles from film and TV, obviously meant for Brian Blessed, DIDN'T go to Brian Blessed?
1. Captain Shakespeare, Stardust (2007)
I feel a little bad for bringing this up, because Neil Gaiman-penned fantasy romp 'Stardust' is the last objectively good film on Robert De Niro's CV, but unfortunately, of a stellar cast, he is the weak link. It's not as though he doesn't try. As affable sky pirate Captain Shakespeare, Bobby does his best. But he's miscast. It seems clear that producers wanted a big international name in the role, when what they needed was someone who IS a sky pirate - Brian Blessed. When he was supposed to be terrifying, Brian actually would have been terrifying. When charming and lovable, he would have lived the part with ease. And when dressed up in pantaloons, dancing around with a feather fan to the 'Can Can', he would have been joyous. Plus he just LOOKS like a damn sky pirate! Should have been Brian.
2. Odin, Thor (2011)
This one is actually painful to me. When it was announced that Marvel had hired Kenneth Branagh to direct 'Thor' I almost punched the sky because I KNEW that meant we'd be getting Brian Blessed in the role he was born to play - Odin. I had good reason to think this. Brian has long been Branagh's lucky charm. He was Duke Senior in Branagh's 'As You Like It', Exeter in his 'Henry V' and the ghost of Hamlet's father in 'Hamlet' (a role in which he stretched himself by whispering every line). I thought the combination of Branagh in the director's chair and the role of Norse king of the Gods could only result in Brian, gold eyepatch and all, shaking the very foundations of Asgard with his thousand decibel line deliveries. But I can only imagine some studio suits got in the way again, because we didn't get Brian. Somehow, for some reason, we got Anthony Hopkins. And he was... fine, I guess? I don't know. I've never seen the film. Why would I? What did it have to tempt me to the cinema? Nothing. Should have been Brian.
3. SOMEBODY in the Pirates of the Caribbean films (2003 - ???)
Now this is ridiculous. We've so far had four - FOUR - entries in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' films. We're about to get a fifth. Johnny Depp has been a pirate. Orlando Bloom has been a pirate. Geoffrey Rush has been a pirate. Penelope Cruz has been a pirate. Chow Yun Fat has been a pirate. Ian McShane has been a pirate. Mackenzie Crook has been a pirate. Keith Richards has been a pirate. Omid Djallili has been a pirate. Kevin McNally has been a pirate. Javier Bardem is about to be a pirate. Yet the GREATEST LIVING EXAMPLE of what a pirate should look and sound like? The man about whom every single feature screams PIRATE? He is nowhere to be seen. I'm not even begging for a main role here. Even a cameo would be something. They organised an entire pirate council in the third film and Brian Blessed - again, the closest thing we have to a modern day buccaneer - was nowhere to be seen. All we got was a bunch of bickering nobodies. That's insane. Should have been Brian.
4. Pirate Captain in 'The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!' (2012)
Okay. I really don't understand this one. First of all, the film is crap. Let's get that out the way first, because Aardman has made some cracking films, but this is not one of them. Full of stale jokes, tedious action scenes and a general feeling that the makers couldn't be arsed, the film is a poor tribute to what was actually a very funny book. But the worst crime this film commits is taking a character like the Pirate Captain and giving him to... Hugh Grant. I mean... HUGH GRANT? Hugh Grant is not the Pirate Captain. Hugh Grant is not a pirate. BRIAN BLESSED is a pirate. What especially upsets me about this is the film didn't really need a Hollywood name. Kids would've seen it regardless of who had top billing. They're not going to get excited because the guy from 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' is in it. All the film needed was a great performance and it would've been no hassle to get Brian Blessed - an accomplished voice-over artist - to give it. Really no hassle, because he was THERE!!! That's the worst part. They got him! They put him in the film! Almost as an apology for not giving us the obvious brilliance of him as the Pirate Captain, they gave him a bit-part as the Pirate King. He got to show up for a total of about three minutes. But I'll tell you this - they're the only three minutes in the whole film that work! Should have been Brian.
5. King Robert in 'Game of Thrones' (2011)
I feel like I don't even have to explain this one. Look, Mark Addy did... fine. I've nothing against him really, it's just that... didn't anyone else feel watching 'Game of Thrones' that King Robert was just a little on the small side? Not just short (though he was a bit) or not quite fat enough (though he was), but just, when everyone else around was giving glorious movie star performances, he was just a little bit... TV? I don't know how to properly express this except to say that he felt as large as life, but what the role really needed was someone LARGER than life. And Brian would've nailed it. He would've nailed every facet of this sad, blustering, drunken, depressed man. He would've nailed the cartoon and the tragedy. It was a role, more than any above, that was MEANT for him. It needed his experience, his charisma, his big beautiful face with its sad, quiet eyes. You would have loved him. You would have wept for him. You wouldn't have particularly noticed that Ned Stark was even kicking about. And his memory would have lasted far into future seasons. Again, nothing really against Mark Addy, who did about as good a job as any man who's not Brian Blessed can do, but... it should have been Brian.
What have I missed? What other roles in film and TV past obviously should have gone to Brian Blessed but for some reason (sinister Hollywood conspiracy etc) didn't? Let me know in the comments.